St. John's woman can't get 2nd booster at home, so she's heading to Quebec
Decision was prompted by feelings of vulnerability, said Kati Szego
A woman in St. John's who wants a second COVID-19 booster vaccine has decided to travel out of the province to receive it — and is seeking clarity on when more people in Newfoundland and Labrador can get their fourth dose.
Kati Szego, 62, received her first booster in January. She travels as part of her work and is scheduled to fly to Portugal in July, but is hesitant to make the trip without the added security of a second booster dose.
However, Szego is unable to receive that dose because she doesn't meet Newfoundland and Labrador's eligibility guidelines.
Booster doses are currently available only to those living in congregate living facilities in the province, anyone who identifies as Indigenous and anyone over the age of 70.
"I was told about a month ago to just wait a couple of weeks, because surely the eligibility criteria will be expanding," Szego said Tuesday.
"I did that happily, but now the window has narrowed for me in which I can get a booster and have those two weeks transpire so that I'm protected reasonably well when I get on the plane."
Faced with the uncertainty of securing a second dose in Newfoundland before her travel deadline — and being turned away from vaccination clinics with a doctors note in hand — Szego has decided she'll likely fly to Quebec to be boosted, where anyone over the age of 18 can receive a fourth dose.
"That seems to me to be silly.… There's the unnecessary risk of travelling itself, which is a problem, and then of course there's the cost that's involved," she said.
"It's a very difficult decision to make. But it's prompted by the sense of vulnerability that I feel.… It's not a decision that I take happily, and I feel very badly for other people who are feeling equally, if not more vulnerable."
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Szego says she'd like to see more clear communication as to when eligibility guidelines will be expanded.
Newfoundland and Labrador Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said Tuesday those conversations are happening daily. But the province wants to make sure those at the highest risk of COVID-19 are able to get a fourth vaccine.
"We expect to see some surges in the fall and certainly we want to prepare for that," Fitzgerald said. "So at the moment, we're certainly following the evidence that says that people who are in the groups … listed off are at higher risk for more severe outcomes and should have that second booster."
Dr. Brenda Wilson, a public health physician and health services researcher at Memorial University, says booster doses will be important in protecting people during an expected fall surge, especially as immunity from a first booster dose wanes.
"If we're going into a new wave, this is the time to make sure that we are actually as protected as we can be," Wilson said.
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However, she said, it's far from the only measure people can take to protect themselves. As new COVID-19 subvariants emerge in Europe, like BA.4 and BA.5, vaccination likely won't be able to serve as the sole protection from future infection.
"People are getting repeated infections, so one infection is not enough to guarantee you immunity beyond a fairly short period of time," she said. "If we want to reduce transmission, and reducing transmission is the way that we help prevent new variants arising.… [Masks] do have a measurable effect on transmission."
With files from Carolyn Stokes and The St. John's Morning Show