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Pharmacist Mario Linaksita, right, administers the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Jonathan Vogt, 62, at University Pharmacy, in Vancouver, on April 1, 2021.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

British Columbia plans to roll out Moderna’s Omicron-targeting bivalent booster this month.

The first tranche of the Moderna bivalent Spikevax COVID-19 vaccine, which offers better protection against Omicron BA.1 than the company’s original vaccine, is arriving in British Columbia imminently, Penny Ballem, executive lead for B.C.’s immunization program, told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Nearly 110,000 Moderna bivalent vaccines are expected to land in more than 500 pharmacies across B.C. this week and British Columbians will start receiving invitations to get the shot in the coming days.

Health authorities, who are responsible for residents at long-term care, assisted-living facilities, and those in shelters and congregate settings, will start their mass clinics on Sept. 19.

Bivalents target both the original coronavirus and variants. In B.C., the new vaccine targeting Omicron will be available for individuals 18 and older, as well as those 12 to 17 years old who are considered high risk. For children 5 to 11, and youth who aren’t eligible for the bivalent shots, they are encouraged to get a fall booster with a regular vaccine, said Dr. Ballem.

She noted the province will be able to vaccinate, at peak, about 250,000 to 280,000 individuals a week in the fall campaign.

“That’s about, you know, a quarter of a million or more individuals who will get their vaccine in any one week. That capacity will remain for about 10 weeks, starting in the middle of September.”

Early invitations will be sent to to several key groups, including individuals who received up to two doses, those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, Indigenous people who are 18 and older, and health care workers. The general public will mostly receive the bivalent booster between November and December, said Dr. Ballem.

The U.S. announced recently that it authorized COVID-19 boosters that target the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariant. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said on Tuesday that clinical studies have shown that “BA.1 component of the bivalent vaccine stimulates a very strong immune boost against all of the Omicron strains.”

Sixty per cent of British Columbians aged 12 and older have received their first booster shot – or third dose overall. About 1.3 million eligible and invited individuals have yet to be injected with the first booster.

“And we want to encourage the 1.3 million people who got fully vaccinated but have yet to have a booster. This is the time to come in and get your first booster,” Dr. Ballem said.

Dr. Henry said Public Health has been trying to understand this group’s reasons for not yet receiving any booster shots. “A lot of it is because they were busy or they didn’t feel they needed it, but a huge proportion of people, it’s because they had a recent COVID infection as well,” she told reporters.

Dr. Henry added that a third to 40 per cent of that 1.3 million people are willing to get a vaccine, but were waiting for the bivalent vaccine.

“So we will be targeting, and one of the things we’re saying today is if you’re in that group of people, this is your vaccine to get in the coming months.”

Dr. Ballem said B.C. is also hoping to receive a Pfizer-made bivalent vaccine, which is working its way through the regulatory process in Canada.

The federal National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends people wait until six months from their last COVID-19 shot before getting their next. Dr. Henry said the public should wait at least three months after having an infection before they get next booster dose: “That allows your immune system to mature and to develop that boost from the infection as well.”

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