BC COVID-19 boosters: Health minister defends approach

Roughly 1.3 million people in BC have been invited to get a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but have not yet done so.

As the province plans for the rollout of “fall boosters” for everyone ages 12 and older beginning in September, Health Minister Adrian Dix was asked Friday for his response to criticism that the province’s messaging on the necessity of booster doses hasn’t been “forceful “enough.

Ten responded calmly, but expressed exasperation.

“How can I be more clear than I have been – I would say, and I have to say this delicately – the last 150 times I’ve said this?” the health minister asked, before again making his case to the 1.3 million people who haven’t booked booster appointments.

“If you’ve been invited for your first booster, get your first booster today,” Dix said. “Sign up for the appointment today. It’ll make you safer. It’ll make your family safer. It’ll make your community safer. Get it done today.”

Likewise, to the roughly 200,000 people ages 70 and older or in other categories where second boosters have been offered, he offered a similar message:

“If you’ve been invited for a second booster and you’re in those categories, get it done today. Book the appointment today.”

Dix also pointed out that BC isn’t the only jurisdiction in Canada where the uptake of booster doses has lagged well behind the primary course of vaccines.

Among adults ages 18 and older in BC, 94 per cent have received at least a first dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, and 92 per cent have received at least two doses.

For boosters, the total stands at about 62 per cent.

It’s unclear why so many British Columbians have chosen not to get third shots. In May, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry cautioned that natural immunity from the first Omicron wave in December and January – which infected roughly 50 per cent of the province – was waning. At that time, she encouraged those who hadn’t booked a booster appointment because of a recent infection to do so.

Another possible explanation for the lower uptake of third shots is that the province never made them mandatory in any circumstances, unlike the primary course of vaccines.

The BC government requires most health-care workers and visitors to long-term care homes to have two doses of vaccine, and some private businesses have placed the same requirement on their workforces. Boosters have not been added to the provincial requirements.

Similarly, the BC Vaccine Card program, which made proof of two doses of vaccine mandatory for dining in restaurants and attending events, never expanded to require three doses.

That program ended in April, with Henry saying that it had been “very effective at supporting people to get vaccinated.”

On Friday, Dix argued that the province’s approach to encouraging boosters has been effective.

“People are responding to this,” he said. “We’ve been doing about 50,000 shots a week.”

“There was a lot of urgency, you’ll remember, in December and January and February and March,” he added. “We certainly made the case, and there was urgency and people went and got their third (dose) boosters, 2.8 million of them.”

The most recent data from the BC Center for Disease Control’s COVID-19 dashboard shows the province administered just 31,261 doses of vaccine during the week that ended July 2. That was a significant decrease from the recent average, which had seen the province administer more than 50,000 doses for five straight weeks in May and June.

Of the 31,261 doses administered last week, 26,317 of them – or about 84 per cent – ​​were second boosters. Another 3,863 were first boosters, 718 were second doses of a primary course of vaccination and 359 were first doses.

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