Spring booster vaccines could soon be coming for adults at high risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 in British Columbia, but the province hasn’t yet said when.
On Friday, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization advised that high-risk adults should receive a spring booster vaccine dose at least six months after their most recent shot or COVID-19 infection.
NACI’s new guidance recommends spring boosters for all adults over 65, residents of long-term care and other congregate living settings and anyone 18 and older who is immunocompromised due to an underlying condition or medical treatment.
Spring boosters should be the bivalent mRNA vaccine that targets the dominant Omicron strain of the virus, NACI said.
NACI also recommended that anyone who did not receive previously recommended doses, including the primary series or a fall 2022 booster dose, should receive those shots now.
B.C.’s Health Ministry, which has so-far heeded NACI’s advice, won’t confirm if or when it will provide additional advised boosters for high-risk adults.
“We are working with our B.C. immunization committee and public health team to review the NACI recommendation and data,” a ministry spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement sent to The Tyee Tuesday. “We will be providing details on the B.C. plan in the coming days.”
In a Monday statement, non-profit advocacy organization Protect Our Province BC says the risk of long COVID and post-viral illness mean all Canadians should be eligible for a spring booster dose, not just adults who are high-risk.
“Imperfect as they are, current vaccines are the only strategy being used in Canada and B.C. when it comes to COVID-19 protection,” Protect Our Province said in an emailed statement to The Tyee.
Bivalent boosters provide significantly improved protection against severe illness and death from all strains of COVID-19, including several Omicron strains, several recent studies have confirmed.
Omicron strains now make up more than half of cases in B.C., according to the BC Centre for Disease Control’s March 2 report on genome sequencing.
Bivalent vaccines, rolled out in B.C. last fall, target Omicron strains as well as the original virus the first vaccines were based on.
But that protection against serious illness wanes over time, particularly among older adults and people who are immunocompromised, studies suggest.
As public health measures have been removed in B.C., the population’s vaccine uptake has decreased for each subsequent booster dose recommended for adults and teens over 12.
About 86 per cent of British Columbians over 70 have received three doses of vaccine, while 73 per cent received a fourth dose. Just 48 per cent have received their fifth dose, which started to become available last fall.
For all adults over 18, only 63 per cent have received three doses, and 38 per cent have received four. Less than half of children 5 to 11 have the recommended two doses, and only 13 per cent of kids aged six months to four years do either.
B.C. has limited testing to those at high risk for COVID-19, and experts say delays in the data it does provide have made it difficult to get a clear portrait of the pandemic.
During the most recent reporting week ending Feb. 18, 31 people had died within 30 days of testing positive for COVID-19. This is up from the 23 people who died the previous week and a decrease from the 48 people who died over the holidays in December.
Hospitalizations appear to have fallen since the holiday-related spike. B.C.’s hospitals admitted 103 new people for COVID-19 during the week of Feb. 12, and ICU admissions remained stable around 23 to 26 people weekly in the last four weeks.
In addition to encouraging vaccination, Protect Our Province has repeatedly called for expanded testing, access to the oral medication Paxlovid to treat COVID, mandated air filtration standards and masking in public indoor spaces.
Boosters should not be the only protection but should be available to everyone as long as further steps aren’t being taken, its emailed statement read.
Read more: Coronavirus