COVID-19 news in BC: ‘Fall booster’ coming in September

The BC government is planning to offer a “fall booster” of COVID-19 vaccine to everyone 12 and older beginning in September, in preparation for what is expected to be a challenging winter for respiratory illnesses.

That dose will be the second booster offered to the general population, though Dr. Penny Ballem, executive lead of the province’s immunization program, noted there are still 1.3 million British Columbians who haven’t accepted the invitation to get their first.

“They need to get that first booster and we’re ready for them any time,” Ballem said at a news conference Friday. “Please go get it.”

Second boosters will be offered to individuals six months after their first, following the same interval used between second primary doses and first boosters.

So far, second boosters have only been offered to British Columbians age 70 and older, Indigenous residents age 55 and older, people living in long-term care homes, and those considered extremely clinically vulnerable to severe infection. Eligibility is being expanded to those 65 and older soon, with invitations starting to go out on Monday.

For the general population, Ballem stressed that fall is the optimal time to enhance their protection against COVID-19.

“This is when we’re most exposed to respiratory illness – we’re moving indoors through the fall and winter, our risk is highest, and you want to get your booster when your risk is highest,” she said.

By the fall, the government also expects to have new vaccines available from Pfizer and Moderna that are tailored to protect against Omicron. Both are pending approval from Health Canada.

“They look very promising,” said Dr. Martin Lavoie, BC’s acting provincial health officer. “Those new vaccines, and the boosters, will be critical to helping us maintain our trajectory – a very positive trajectory so far in managing this pandemic.”

BC health officials have repeatedly credited widespread vaccination for allowing the province to lift and loosen many COVID-19 restrictions earlier this year, returning some semblance of normalcy in day-to-day life.

But they have also urged the public not to become complacent, particularly as transmission and COVID-19 hospitalizations begin to surge once more. Modellers believe another Omicron wave, fueled by the BA.5 subvariant, is already underway, and expected to peak next month.

“The virus is continuing to circulate,” Lavoie said. “So we want to be clear: The pandemic is not over, unfortunately.”

There has been some hesitancy to obtain a third dose, for reasons that are unclear. While 94 per cent of BC adults have received a first dose, only about 62 per cent have had a booster.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province is continuing to make progress, however, providing “about 50,000 shots a week.”

According to the government, vaccine effectiveness data from early April through May of this year found Canadians who were boosted had “a risk of being hospitalized approximately five times lower compared to unvaccinated people.”

Second boosters are being offered widely across BC on the advice of the National Advisory Council on Immunization, whose guidance has been followed by provincial health officials throughout the pandemic.

NACI is still deciding whether to approve a first booster for children between the ages of five and 11. A smaller first primary dose of vaccine designed for children under five is also still pending Health Canada approval, and subsequent NACI review.

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