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BC offers fourth COVID-19 vaccine doses this summer—but discourages uptake until fall

Meanwhile, province seeks spike in cases and hospitalizations due to Omicron surge

By Brishti Basu
July 8, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

BC offers fourth COVID-19 vaccine doses this summer—but discourages uptake until fall

Meanwhile, province seeks spike in cases and hospitalizations due to Omicron surge

By Brishti Basu
Jul 8, 2022
BC health minister Adrian Dix addresses reporters on July 8, 2022. Photo: BC Government / Flickr
BC health minister Adrian Dix addresses reporters on July 8, 2022. Photo: BC Government / Flickr
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

BC offers fourth COVID-19 vaccine doses this summer—but discourages uptake until fall

Meanwhile, province seeks spike in cases and hospitalizations due to Omicron surge

By Brishti Basu
July 8, 2022
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BC offers fourth COVID-19 vaccine doses this summer—but discourages uptake until fall
BC health minister Adrian Dix addresses reporters on July 8, 2022. Photo: BC Government / Flickr

Public health leaders in BC have announced that those who really want a fourth COVID-19 vaccine this summer can now request one, but are discouraging people from getting this booster shot until the fall. This message was announced at the same time BC is seeing a predictable spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the new BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants. 

According to acting public health officer, Dr. Martin Lavoie (who addressed reporters while Dr. Bonnie Henry is on vacation), the health ministry expects to have a bivalent vaccine—one that can combat both Omicron and original strains of the virus—available this fall and plans to embark on a wider fourth dose campaign for residents aged 12+ at that point.

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For now, health officials said those who feel like they need a fourth dose despite not being currently eligible under BC guidelines can request one by contacting the province’s immunization call centre.  

However Dr. Penny Ballem, leader of the province’s COVID-19 immunization rollout, said they are “strongly encouraging” people to wait to get their fourth doses in the fall. The current strategy is to keep asking those who are eligible to get their third dose to do so—there are still 1.3 million people in BC who have not received their first booster shot. 

“If they really want to have a second booster, we will enable that. But the big message, the recommendation is really the best thing to do is wait for the fall,” Ballem said. In addition to holding out for a bivalent vaccine targeting Omicron variants, Ballem says the fall timeline is best because the “risk is highest” when people move indoors in the fall and winter. 

A spokesperson from the health ministry told Capital Daily that those who choose to get a fourth dose now will have to wait at least six months before they can access the expected bivalent shot, under BC’s current immunization strategy. 

“Best to wait and follow the advice of public health but if you really feel you have special circumstances or you're very worried, we'll enable that,” Ballem said.

Yet in the wake of the new Omicron variants and their ability to infect people who’ve been vaccinated, had COVID-19 in the past, and a combination of the two, experts say a fourth dose now would help mitigate impact of the sixth wave. 

In a Capital Daily article on June 30, Sarah Otto, a UBC professor, infectious disease modelling expert and member of the independent BC COVID-19 modelling group, said the key to avoiding reinfections is getting a booster shot right before the beginning of the next wave—that is, right now. 

“If you have a choice and boosters available to you, then taking that booster does three things: it reduces the chance that you get COVID; it reduces the chance that you have these long COVID risks that we don't even document very well; and it's one [fewer infected] person so that reduces the transmission [risk] from person to person,” Otto said. 

“The disadvantages are that it takes some time to go and bother to get a booster.”

BC public health leaders say their guidance is informed by the latest information from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which recommends a booster dose be offered to everyone aged 12+ this fall. 

NACI’s third recommendation, labelled as “discretionary,” says booster doses “may be offered at an interval of 6 months since a previous COVID-19 vaccine dose or SARS-CoV-2 infection.” Their guidelines also allow individual public health bodies to decide to offer boosters after a shorter interval of three months “in the context of heightened epidemiologic risk.” 

Other jurisdictions have taken advantage of this allowance, like Ontario where anyone over the age of 60 and First Nation, Inuit and Métis individuals over the age of 18 can get their second booster shot three months after the first. 

A growing body of scientific evidence shows that booster shots provide a substantial improvement to immune response against the virus when administered six months after the last shot.

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