British Columbia

4th dose hopefuls will have to wait for booster shot, says Dr. Bonnie Henry, despite expiring stock

With just two per cent of British Columbians fully vaccinated and boosted, the province is near last place among provinces when it comes to uptake for fourth COVID vaccine doses, according to most recent federal data from late May.

Current stock of COVID vaccines prioritized for those who haven't received boosters, says Dr. Bonnie Henry

Three workers in medical masks load up syringes with vaccines.
A COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver, B.C., pictured in January. An infectious disease expert has said 200,000 doses of COVID-19 booster vaccines are set to expire in the next month. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

This week marks six months since Vancouver senior Elvira Lount received her third COVID-19 shot, or her first booster.

Because her 70th birthday isn't until late August, however, she'll have to wait months to get her next booster shot. Fourth doses, the province says, are currently only available to people age 70 and older, Indigenous people over 55, and people in long-term care — six months after their last booster.

But 200,000 of those doses are set to expire in the next month, according to one infectious disease expert.

"I just don't understand why Dr. Bonnie Henry and Adrian Dix and the NDP are withholding those doses from people, and then allowing them to expire," Lount told CBC News. 

"I would like to have the choice to get my dose in July before those vaccines expire ... We should not be allowing any doses to expire."

Lount is one of many asking why the province is holding back on second boosters, or fourth doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

A chart released by the Public Health Agency of Canada on May 22 shows how province's compare when it comes to percentage of their population has gotten two boosters of a Covid-19 vaccine, in addition to being fully vaccinated. B.C. is among the lowest for four doses
A chart released by the Public Health Agency of Canada on May 22 shows how much of each province's population has received two boosters — or four doses — of the COVID-19 vaccine. B.C. is shown to have the second-lowest uptake. (Public Health Agency of Canada)

The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that seven per cent of Canadians, or 2.3 million people, have received both COVID-19 booster shots, with more than one-third age 70 and older.

With just two per cent of British Columbians fully vaccinated and boosted, the province is near last place among provinces when it comes to uptake for fourth COVID-19 vaccine doses, ahead of only Manitoba, according to most recent federal data from late May (data for that period is unavailable in New Brunswick, while Alberta reported its figures separately).

On Wednesday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the current stock of COVID-19 vaccines in the province are being prioritized for the roughly 1.2 million eligible vaccinated people who still haven't received any boosters.

"All adults need to get that third dose," Henry told CBC's On The Coast. "There's about 1.2 million people in B.C. who've had two doses who have not got that first booster.

"I would encourage people to do that now so that we use up this vaccine before it expires, and really focusing the fourth dose, that extra boost, for those people who really need it."

'A legitimate difference of opinion'

Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, says he hopes provincial health authorities can explain more clearly to the public their rationale for holding back fourth doses.

He says in his own practice, he has done his best to request exceptions for medically vulnerable people who need the added immunity.

"We're all going to get four doses eventually, I really believe that," Conway told CBC News. "There is a legitimate difference of opinion here; everyone says they're basing their conclusions on science.

"I'm told there are over 200,000 vaccine doses that are [in] British Columbia — that we have, that we're ready to give — that are going to expire in the next four to five weeks."

Henry says if things get worse this fall — and with evidence of waning immunity against Omicron and other new variants of COVID-19 — she may reconsider and make fourth doses available more widely.

"Certain populations of people may be more at risk of having more severe illness with COVID again, like we saw with older people," she said on On The Coast.

For Lount, the requirement to wait six months after a previous booster makes sense, she says.

But if doses are available in B.C., she and others are asking why they aren't being rolled out as fast as possible, to anyone eager to get them.

"I don't understand why the province is not giving residents the choice whether they have their fourth dose or not."

With files from David Ball, Chad Pawson and On The Coast