The British Columbia chief physician has signaled that third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine could be made more widely available in the coming weeks, as breakthrough cases and subsequent deaths in the province continue to rise slowly.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says more information on booster shots will be made available in late October, once the various issues of ethics, efficiency and timing have been considered.
“Who gets the most out of a booster shot? What is the best timing? Who is most exposed?” said Henry, noting both the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the Council of Chief Medical Officers are also investigating the matter.
“There are a whole host of considerations that we need to review,” she said.
Last month, 125 British Colombians died of COVID-19, of which 61 percent were unvaccinated. Six percent of those who died had one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 33 percent had two doses. In all groups, the death rate skewed the elderly, with the highest mortality seen in those aged 80 and over.
The BC Center for Disease Control has said that cases, hospitalizations and deaths in fully vaccinated individuals are expected to increase as more people are vaccinated.
Still, senior residents tell the CBC that recent figures have worried them, with several saying they are eager for the province to offer third doses to the public.
Currently, the province offers third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to residents in long-term care and nursing homes, as well as about 100,000 “moderately to severely” immunocompromised individuals.
“I want to see as many people vaccinated with the booster shot as possible,” said Ramona Kaptyn, president of CARP (Canadian Association for Retired Persons)’s White Rock Surrey chapter.
“We have already learned how [vaccinate people] – so let’s just keep going, ”she said.
Third dose ‘a reality’: doctor
Doctors meanwhile tell CBC that it is not a question of whether residents get a third dose, but when.
“I think the third dose of long-term care makes absolute sense right now because it’s our fragile fragility,” says Dr. Naaz Parmar, specialist in geriatric medicine.
“I hope, though … in the next few weeks, there will be recognition that there are many people who are on the same level of fragility who still live in their own homes.”
Parmar says that while noticing more patients asking about boosters, she agrees with the province’s approach to prioritizing both age and vulnerable populations.
Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have similarly prioritized vulnerable populations, while Alberta this week expanded eligibility to include everyone over the age of 75 as well as First Nations, Inuit and Métis people over the age of 65, provided it is six months since their last dosage.
Although it is unclear which groups could be included if the province decides to extend the booster entitlement, BC’s senior proponent says the 80s and above would be a logical next step.
“The declining protection is based on age and general health and ability to mount this antibody response,” said Isobel Mackenzie. “Older adults in the community might benefit from the booster.”
The BC Department of Health says anyone eligible for a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will be notified and can receive their shots by visiting an immunization clinic in their community. Adverse reactions from a third dose are reported to be similar to those experienced after the second dose.