The Public Health Agency of Canada will review how many COVID-19 vaccine doses are needed to be considered fully vaccinated once more people have been boosted, leaving open the possibility the additional shot could become a requirement.
Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam told a virtual news conference on Friday that the federal agency will re-examine the definition of fully vaccinated, but did not provide a timeline.
Any change could have significant implications for people travelling interprovincially or internationally, since the federally imposed vaccine mandate for air and rail travel is based on just the primary series of a vaccine, which, depending on the vaccine, is either one or two shots. The same definition is used for the vaccine mandate for the federal civil service, the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCMP.
But with mounting evidence showing that an extra shot better protects against infection, severe illness and death, the definition could change, Dr. Tam said.
“We will be examining – re-examining – those kind of policies going forwards,” she told reporters Friday.
“Particularly now is not the right time because not everybody has had the chance to get the additional dose … not in Canada and certainly not globally. So we will need to re-examine that posture in the future.”
Dr. Tam said the federal public-health agency is changing its terminology for COVID-19 vaccinations and now describes getting a booster as being “up to date” with your shots. However, “that has not been built into the definition for administrative purposes of whether you can enter a certain space or go into a certain task or indeed for international travel.”
She also said that the global consensus is that COVID-19 will be “with us for some time,” but that for now it appears that the Omicron wave of infections has peaked in Canada – although the wave of hospitalizations has not yet crested.
Provincial governments also have vaccine mandates that require people to be fully vaccinated in order to, among other things, dine at restaurants and bars, exercise in gyms and attend live events.
In Ontario, the province’s booster campaign has slowed significantly since most age groups were made eligible for the extra shot in December. On Thursday Premier Doug Ford said that at this point the province wasn’t considering changing what qualifies as fully vaccinated; opposition parties say it should include boosters.
This week B.C. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said the province has “no plans at the moment” to change its definition of fully vaccinated. She noted that so far the primary series of a COVID-19 vaccine “is still giving really strong protection for people against severe illness and hospitalization.”
Quebec’s Health Minister, Christian Dubé, has said the province’s vaccine passports will eventually require a third shot, but not until everyone in the province has had the opportunity to receive one. Eligibility for the booster was only widened to all adults in Quebec last week.
On Friday, studies released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that a booster dose provides better protection against the Omicron variant when it comes to infection, severe illness and death. But the studies also showed that vaccines are still less effective than they were against the Delta variant.
The studies, which echo findings from other countries, underscore why politicians and health officials across Canada have been urging people to get their shots.
“I think it’s very important to get the booster,” Dr. Tam said when asked about the new data. “Everyone should try and get the boosters as soon as they are eligible.”
With files from Eric Andrew-Gee in Montreal and The Associated Press
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