COVID-19: Will BC offer booster shots to everyone? What we know so far

COVID-19: Will BC offer booster shots to everyone? What we know so far

“There’s a whole number of considerations that we need to go through, whether it is ethical, effectiveness, when is the best time for it,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry.

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The B.C. government is investigating the next steps of a roll out of COVID-19 booster shots — and whether a third jab is necessary for everyone.

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The province’s Health Ministry has already decided to provide a third vaccine shot to residents of long-term care homes and to people who don’t develop a strong immune response because of a health condition or certain medications.

Last week, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, said she expects to have more information on a booster shot plan by the end of the month.

The U.S. plans a large booster rollout, while Israel is making booster shots available to all those over 50 years old.

“Dr. Henry and her public health team are currently reviewing data around vaccine effectiveness for all ages and populations to determine if, and when, a booster dose may be needed for different ages and populations,” Health Ministry spokeswoman Marielle Tounsi said Friday in a statement.

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Tounsi said the National Advisory Committee on Immunization is also reviewing these data and provincial health officials are closely working with the agency to determine the need for and timing of booster doses.

Last week, Henry said priority populations for a booster could include health-care workers who received the vaccines earliest and those who had short intervals between a first and second jab.

In some First Nations communities where there is a lot of transmission and breakthrough infections, a third dose might also be a consideration, added Henry.

“There’s a whole number of considerations that we need to go through, whether it is ethical, effectiveness, when is the best time for it,” she said.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization said in late September a third dose of vaccine was warranted for people in long-term care homes or with compromised immune systems, similar to recommendations made by both the European Medicines Agency and the United States Food and Drug Administration.

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So far, evidence, including from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, has shown the vaccines are maintaining strong protection against severe cases of COVID-19 and are keeping vaccinated people out of hospital, even if the vaccine protection against infection wanes over time.

Horacio Bach, an adjunct professor of infectious diseases at the University of B.C.’s faculty of medicine, said while it makes sense to provide boosters to seniors in care homes who are most at risk of reinfection and severe illness, it may be premature to decide to give boosters in the general population.

A need for broader use of booster shots will be realized when reinfections are going up in the fully vaccinated, and in parallel, those people are having to be hospitalized, noted Bach.

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But he’s not convinced that will become a major problem as the existing double-dose of vaccines provides good protection in younger, healthy people.

“But we never know if tomorrow will come a new crazy variant,” added Bach.

It’s also important, Bach said, that the vaccine be made available first to countries that can’t afford the vaccine and have low vaccine rates, which will also reduce the opportunity for new variants.

Dr. Brian Conway, president and medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, expects that booster shots eventually will be available to the larger population, possibly as early as next spring in B.C.

That will likely be followed by an annual combined flu/COVID-19 shot in the fall, he said.

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Conway said Moderna and Novavax are both developing a combined COVID-19 and flu shot.

“So if they’re committing to it, that’s probably a signal, I would say, that they’ve consulted broadly with scientists and experts, and felt that that’s where things are headed,” he said.

University of B.C. epidemiologist Sarah Otto also says she is not sure that a booster shot will be needed by the larger population.

“I haven’t seen strong enough evidence that that protection from hospitalization is waning among anybody except the elderly,” said Otto, a zoologist who specializes in mathematical modelling.

With files from Canadian Press

ghoekstra@postmedia.com

twitter.com/gordon_hoekstra


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