Vancouver Coastal Health is investigating reports of physicians who got their second COVID-19 vaccine doses before they were permitted to do so. Such physicians may be disciplined, according to an internal memo.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said today it’s disappointing to hear about these cases but he emphasized that they were picked up because of a provincial database that tracks every dose.

The internal memo stated:

“Through this system, it has come to our attention that there haven been instances in which physicians have attended our clinics and received their 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 government’s approach is to provide second doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines about 35 days after the first dose. B.C. decided to delay the second dose to 35 days, rather than the manufacturers’ recommendation of 21 to 28 days. By the end of March, B.C. expects that just over 240,000 people will have received two doses.

Dix said the government won’t comment further on physicians who skirted rules because “these are human resource issues and we won’t be commenting on them publicly.” He said while there have been media reports about  “a few” individuals who’ve “gotten out of line”  for immunizations, such cases shouldn’t detract from the success of the “work to date that overall has been excellent.”

Doctors of B.C., the group representing 14,000 physicians across the province, did not have a comment on the matter. Sharon Shore, a spokeswoman, said: “Given that we just found out about this situation a little while ago, we cannot comment without knowing more about what happened.” (The internal memo was obtained by yesterday).

About 63,000 doses have been delivered to high priority individuals like front line healthcare workers and residents of long term care thus far. The number of vaccinations has steadily declined in the past week because of shrinking supplies but the province is expecting more deliveries today and throughout the rest of the week.

Dr. Penny Ballem, chair of the VCH board, said she takes the matter involving the physicians who got earlier vaccinations seriously and “we hope it won’t be something we see a recurrence of.”

Vancouver Coastal Health was asked for comments yesterday, after I obtained the internal memo. The response sent today says:

“Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) is committed to the roll-out of the COVID-19 immunization program in line with guidelines set out by the Ministry and the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations.

Administering the first doses of vaccine to as many vulnerable and high-risk people as possible in these early weeks will have the greatest impact on reducing severe illness, hospitalizations and death.

The overwhelming majority of healthcare professionals are following public health direction, and we are following-up on any individuals who have received a second dose of vaccine before they were invited to do so.

VCH is currently investigating and appropriate action will be taken to address any breaches of public health direction regarding vaccine administration.”

Meanwhile, at a teleconference press briefing, Dix announced that Ballem will be taking on an additional role as the provincial immunization leader for the “largest vaccination program in history.”

Dr. Ross Brown, who has been heading the pandemic response program since November, will continue to work on the vaccination program, under Ballem’s direction.

“I feel very happy and honoured to have this opportunity,” Ballem said. “It’s a mammoth task, but it can be done.”

Ballem, a former hematologist whose high-powered career has included jobs including deputy minister of health and Vancouver city manager, will lead the coordination efforts across the province. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Ballem will direct the massive effort  “whether it’s business or government or municipalities to help support us being able to equitably and rapidly provide this protection to as many of our community members as possible.”

The goal is to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19 by September.

While about 25,000 B.C. residents have been vaccinated weekly in the past month, Dix said the numbers should almost triple by next month when nearly 70,000 doses a week are delivered.

The B.C. vaccine plan is here.