British Columbia is gearing up to offer a second COVID-19 booster shot to the general population in the fall, but except in limited cases will not expand eligibility sooner.
As another wave of infections takes hold in B.C., health officials said the province’s choice to make the second booster dose widely available in September is in line with recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).
British Columbia has one of the lowest delivery rates of fourth doses in the country.
In a release last week, NACI advised jurisdictions to prepare to offer another round of shots to people at increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness, regardless of the number of booster doses they’ve already received.
That includes people 65 years of age and older, residents of long-term care or living facilities, and those 12 years of age and older with an underlying medical condition that places them at high risk of severe COVID-19.
“The best thing to do is wait for the fall,” said Penny Ballem, executive lead of B.C.’s COVID-19 immunization plan. “That’s what NACI has recommended.”
British Columbia currently offers the second booster shots to people who are clinically extremely vulnerable, Indigenous people who are over 55, seniors who are over 70 and also residents at care facilities. Among this population, 64 per cent have received their fourth jab.
Alberta is offering it to similar groups of people, but Ontario is providing a second booster to those who are five months past their first booster shot and who are 60 years of age or older. Quebec has opened the shots up to anyone over the age of 18 who had a first booster at least three months earlier.
Dr. Ballem said B.C. will enable some people who had their booster shot more than six months ago and who are in a vulnerable group to get their fourth shot earlier.
But she said there are “disadvantages” to offering second boosters earlier.
She noted that new vaccines aimed at protecting against Omicron subvariants are expected to arrive soon. “So if you have a booster early in the fall, then you will have to wait for your full six months to get access to the new vaccines, or to a fall booster when we’re providing it for the whole population,” she added.
According to Martin Lavoie, B.C.’s acting provincial health officer, the province is waiting for vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. He said the manufacturers are currently seeking approval from Health Canada.
“It looks promising, but it’s not done until we have confirmation,” he said.
Dr. Lavoie noted that there are also about 1.3 million people in B.C. who have not yet received their booster dose.
He advised people to receive all the doses that are recommended, as the province is seeing an increase in cases and hospital admissions. “We want to be clear: The pandemic is not over, unfortunately.”
When it comes to the general population in B.C., only 5.18 per cent – among the lowest of provinces across the country – have received a second booster shot, according to data released by the federal government as of June 19.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix explained that the province has had a less broad offer of the second booster dose compared with other jurisdictions.
In Quebec, more than 13 per cent of the population has received fourth shots, the highest in the country. It’s followed by Saskatchewan and Ontario, whose rates are 10.7 per cent and 8.4 per cent, respectively.
The federal stats do not include the latest numbers for Alberta and New Brunswick. Spokespeople for both provincial governments didn’t provide percentage numbers for those who have received fourth doses.
Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, said there has been a lack of buy-in to the province’s vaccination program in the past weeks to months.
He said the messaging he’s heard to encourage the public to get third shots is not as forceful as it could be, and that the opportunities to get the third dose are not that clear.
“So I think we’ve sort of chosen for whatever reason until today to take our foot off the gas as it were. And we need to focus again,” Dr. Conway said.
With a report from The Canadian Press