British Columbia

Health officials promote COVID-19 booster doses as transmission slows in B.C.

Transmission is slowing in B.C., relieving some of the pressure on hospitals, but health officials say vaccines remain important as we move into the next phase of the pandemic.

Other mandatory layers of protection, such as masks, will be lifted once there is confidence it's safe

Vaccines continue to play an important role in reducing COVID-19 transmission and severity of illness, B.C. health officials say. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

B.C.'s provincial health officer is strongly urging those who haven't done so to get their COVID-19 booster dose, as the province moves into the next phase of the pandemic.

"Vaccination is our key,"Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a news conference on Tuesday.

"It's the key that we have had for getting past these past two waves, both delta and omicron. It's made a tremendous difference in reducing transmission and we see that particularly with the booster dose."

She said vaccines are 60 to 70 per cent protective in preventing infection, and "highly protective" in preventing the need for hospitalization from COVID-19.

"It will help you now, and it will help you for what we will be dealing with in the future."

Henry said hospitalizations have been decreasing steadily for the most of the past month, with 47 per cent of those in intensive care unvaccinated.

From Feb. 18 to 24, people who were not fully vaccinated accounted for 20.7 per cent of cases and from Feb. 11 to 24, they accounted for 32.9 per cent of hospitalizations, according to the province.

About 11 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in B.C. to date. Of those, about 2.6 million are booster doses. 

Henry said about 60 per cent of fully vaccinated British Columbians, that is residents who have had two doses, have also received a booster dose.

Two more vaccines have been approved in Canada, she said. Novavax has been approved for those 18 years of age and up and is safe to mix and match with other vaccines. 

The Medicago vaccine, a plant-based option, has also been approved for people between the ages of 18 and 64.

Timeline for lifting COVID-19 measures uncertain

COVID-19 transmission is slowing in B.C., but layers of protection such as masks and vaccine cards won't be lifted, health officials said, until they are confident it's safe to do so.

Alberta lifted its mask mandate on Tuesday as part of its general easing of COVID-19 restrictions. Henry said deciding which layers of protection to adopt will eventually become an individual choice.

"As transmission comes down, as hospitalization comes down and as the risk in our communities changes, we can shift more to individualized, personal management," she said.

Health officials say mask mandates will be lifted in B.C. once they're confident it's safe. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

She said some people, such as those who are immunocompromised or who are older, will need to assess their risks and may want to continue to wear masks and keep their groups smaller for longer. 

Henry said she's optimistic that the province is "moving to a better place, rapidly," although we're not quite at endemic stages yet.

"We are in a transition period, but we will take it slowly and sustainably."

She said the province will also be moving to a weekly COVID-19 report, as opposed to daily numbers.

There will be ongoing testing, similar to the way influenza testing is done, Henry said. Wastewater testing will be expanded not just for COVID-19, but for other viruses in the province. Additionally, officials are looking at using samples from blood routinely collected to identify the seroprevalence — the percentage of individuals in a population who have antibodies — of COVID-19.

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