New Brunswick

N.B. children aged 5 to 9 have lowest rates for recent COVID-19 vaccine boosters, data shows

New Brunswickers aged 18 to 29 are doing the worst job of all adults at keeping up to date with their COVID-19 vaccine boosters, data from the Department of Health shows.

Only 2.1% have had a booster in past 5 months, while 18 to 29-year-olds have lowest adult rate at 2.9%

A closeup of a male medical professional in a white coat and blue medical mask injecting a COVID-19 vaccine in a person's upper left arm.
'Dose counting is not as meaningful as it once was in understanding the booster uptake,' said Department of Health spokesperson Sean Hatchard. Whether people have received the most recent booster recommended for them determines whether they are considered up to date. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

New Brunswickers aged 18 to 29 are doing the worst job of all adults at keeping up to date with their COVID-19 vaccine boosters, data from the Department of Health shows.

Only 2.9 per cent of this age group has received a booster dose —  meaning a third dose or more — within the past five months, as of April 19.

The recent booster rate is even lower among New Brunswick children aged five to nine, at 2.1 per cent as of April 6, the data shows.

Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, calls the rates concerning.

"Those low numbers are not driven by vaccine hesitancy. We know what proportion of the population is vaccine hesitant. This is driven by, I think, by people not connecting the dots here," he said.

"And that means that the public has not received adequate, I think, information and education connecting the dots between what is the disease, what are the risks of getting the disease, and what are the protective measures you can take."

Furness contends COVID-19 is still a "major cause of illness and death" that can affect everyone, including children.

"We're talking about serious damage to the body, from the brain to the testes, and all the organs in between."

Boosters are "not a magic bullet," he said, but they can help protect against hospitalization and death, as well as long COVID.

New Brunswick announced two more COVID deaths Tuesday — a person aged 50 to 69 and another aged 70 or older — raising the province's pandemic death toll to 879.

Seven people were admitted to the hospital because of the virus in the past week, including one who required intensive care, and 80 new cases were confirmed through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, according to the COVIDWatch report.

Rates rise with age

Earlier this month, the department told CBC about 13 per cent of New Brunswickers aged five and older have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose in the past five months. That's around 100,000 people.

The department has since provided a more detailed breakdown by age groups.

It shows the rate of having a recent booster among adults steadily climbs with age, from four per cent among those in their 30s to a peak of 30.6 per cent among those aged 75 to 79. It then drops to about 23 per cent among those 85 and older.

The same holds true for the number of boosters received. Rates rise with age, with 100 per cent of New Brunswickers aged 75 and older having received a first booster, according to the department data.

Second-, third- and fourth-booster rates are highest among people aged 75 to 79 and decrease slightly among those in their 80s.

The shape of the curve isn't surprising, said Furness, with much of the booster messaging being focused on older people, who are among those considered at highest risk.

"I'm glad that it's shaped the right way, but these numbers should be so much higher," he said, particularly among those 50 and older.

Need to unlearn idea that 'COVID is no big deal'

He thinks a broad public education campaign is needed to "unlearn this idea that, 'COVID is no big deal.'"

If people understand "COVID is killing us, it's shortening our life expectancy, it's making us sicker," they will be more open to getting a booster, he said.

New Brunswickers aged five and older who received a fall booster are not currently eligible for a spring booster, even if their last dose was more than five months ago.

The province's spring booster campaign is "primarily focused on" people most at risk for severe illness, including seniors and the immunocompromised, "as per the recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations (NACI)," Department of Health spokesperson Sean Hatchard has said.

New Brunswickers who have completed all recommended doses in their primary series, and received the most recent booster recommended for them, are considered up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccinations," he said in an emailed statement.

People aged five or older who have not yet received their fall booster dose, however, remain eligible for a booster dose throughout the spring, Hatchard said.

Booster doses are available by appointment at community pharmacies across the province until the end of June.