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Costs for first fiscal year of B.C.’s mass-vaccination program revealed

The government has not provided a budget estimate for the fall 2022 phase of the mass-vaccination program, which formally launched Tuesday
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The Ministry of Health said that it spent $626 million on the province’s COVID-19 mass-vaccination campaign during the fiscal year ended March 31. 

“Included in that figure are costs to secure and operate the mass vaccination clinics across B.C., distribution of the vaccine to those clinics, and to operate the Get Vaccinated Call Centre and the Provincial Vaccine Management Platform,” said a prepared statement sent from ministry senior public affairs officer Amy Crofts. 

Crofts responded after Minister of Finance Selina Robinson failed to answer a question about program costs during an Aug. 30 news conference about the annual release of the province’s public accounts.

The government has not provided a budget estimate for the fall 2022 phase of the mass-vaccination program, which formally launched Tuesday.

In a June response to a freedom of information request, the Ministry of Health said it had no records about the budget and spending for the ImmunizeBC-branded program between Jan. 1 and April 13.

“The Ministry did not locate records as they do not have budget or financial reports for the ImmunizeBC program,” said the FOI reply. 

Last year, the Ministry of Health had the highest budget of any government department at $27.6 billion. Robinson said said the government spent $3.8 billion on pandemic response and recovery programs. 

Public accounts show that Penny Ballem, the head of the mass-vaccination program, was paid $740,119 since her January 2021 hiring as the program head. 

Ballem’s numbered company, 354948 B.C. Ltd., received $589,706 in 2021-2022, after $150,413 in payments for the previous year. 

Her initial $250-an-hour contract was supposed to pay $220,000 through the end of last October. The former Vancouver city manager and former deputy health minister is also the chair of Vancouver Coastal Health. 

Ballem hired numerous contractors who worked as executives for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics organizing committee, including Mary Conibear’s Calla Strategies ($404,670), Lizette Parsons Bell and Associates Inc. ($326,183), and John H. McLaughlin ($227,798). 

The plan announced today offers fall boosters for everyone aged 5 and up at six-month intervals from their last shot. Anyone infected with the virus since their last shot is recommended to receive a new shot three months after that infection. 

A Moderna combination/bivalent vaccine is expected to begin arriving this week. Pharmacies will be first to receive stock and health authority clinics will begin after Sept. 19. Officials expect to jab 280,000 people per week.

Flu shots will also be offered beginning in early October when they arrive. The Get Vaccinated BC phone and online system will be used for both COVID-19 and influenza vaccines. 

The government spent $47.66 million on a contract with Telus during the 2021 calendar year to operate the vaccine appointment booking hotline.