COVID-19 booster shots to be made available to all British Columbians by May 2022
MRNA vaccines to be used for all residents regardless of what was received for 1st, 2nd doses
Everyone in B.C. will have access to a COVID-19 booster shot in the coming months, the provincial government announced Tuesday.
Between now and the end of the year, the immunization program will continue to provide third doses to people who are immunocompromised, to residents in long-term care and to those in assisted living and rural and remote Indigenous communities.
Seniors aged 70 and over, and all Indigenous people over the age of 12, long-term home support clients and seniors in independent living and health-care workers who had a short interval between their first and second doses will also have the opportunity to receive a third dose by the end of the year.
Starting in January, third dose availability will expand to clinically vulnerable individuals and health-care workers. From there, the rest of the remaining population will become eligible.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said for people who have severe immune-compromising conditions, two doses may not be enough to achieve a high level of immunity, which is why health officials are recommending a third.
For others, immunity can go down after time, she said, which is why a booster dose will be used to help bring immunity back up.
A plan to start vaccinating children between five and 11 is also expected to begin, pending Health Canada approval, though parents can already register their kids to get immunized.
As of Tuesday, nearly 90 per cent of eligible people over the age of 12 in B.C. have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 84 per cent have received a second, which led Dr. Penny Ballem, who is in charge of the immunization program, to call it "very successful."
As the next part of the immunization campaign rolls out, she said, they will look to health authorities for their expertise on how best to offer booster doses in their communities.
Role of pharmacies in 3rd dose program
Pharmacies across the province will play a big part in the rollout of the third dose program.
According to Geraldine Vance, chief executive officer of the British Columbia Pharmacy Association, appointments for the additional shot will be made via the province's Get Vaccinated portal and people will then be presented with options for pharmacies in their community where a pharmacist can deliver their dose.
Vance, speaking Wenesday on The Early Edition, said pharmacists in B.C. already have a proven track record of success when it comes to large-scale vaccine programs, having provided more than a million flu shots last year.
"They are pretty good at this," she said, noting that more than 50 pharmacies took part in a pilot project in August and September to integrate the vaccine portal software with pharmacy software and it is ready to go.
People will be eligible for a booster dose six to eight months after they have received their second dose of the vaccine.
Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, both of the mRNA variety, will be used for the boosters, regardless of what individuals received for their first and second doses, Ballem said.
Starting in January, the province will send a text or an email to British Columbians who have received two doses of vaccine with an invitation to book an appointment for a booster.
The boosters will be available by appointment only. Drop-ins will not be allowed, as they can create pressure on clinics, Henry said.
Henry says she's optimistic that a third dose may provide years of protection against the virus based on the long intervals between previous shots when the province was trying to optimize the benefits of vaccination.
"We know that this vaccine is very highly effective," she said. "We are also … seeing breakthrough cases in certain populations and under certain conditions."
Henry said the booster doses will protect those who are most at risk and will reduce pressure on the health-care system across B.C.
Tuesday's announcement won't affect vaccine cards or mandates for health-care workers — two doses of any combination of COVID-19 vaccine will mean an individual is fully vaccinated.
The province says 77 per cent of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 from Oct. 7 to 20 were in people who were not fully vaccinated.
The province announced Monday it had confirmed 1,618 new cases of COVID-19 and 20 more deaths over the weekend. Fraser Health had more than double the number of new cases compared to any other B.C. health authority, with nearly 700 new diagnoses.
Health officials are still encouraging anyone who has not yet received a first or second dose to register to be vaccinated, and said that part of the immunization program will continue as they work to administer booster shots.
British Columbians aged 12 and over who have not yet been immunized can register in three ways:
With files from The Canadian Press and The Early Edition