Vaccine committee says extending dose interval would allow more essential workers to receive 1st shot
Committee says jurisdictions 'should maximize' number of people benefiting from first dose
Canada's vaccine advisory committee says giving as many Canadians as possible their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine before offering the second would allow more essential workers to be vaccinated sooner — an urgent matter as the provinces grapple with rising caseloads.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) published updated guidelines Wednesday morning on the recommended interval between doses after members reviewed updated research that aligns with the "rapid" response recommendations the committee made last month.
"NACI recommends that in the context of limited COVID-19 vaccine supply and ongoing pandemic disease, jurisdictions should maximize the number of individuals benefiting from the first dose of vaccine by extending the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine up to four months after the first," says NACI's updated recommendations.
The committee said that, based on supply, they expect the interval between the first and second dose to be less than four months.
"Second doses should be offered as soon as possible after all eligible populations have been offered first doses, with priority given to those at highest risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 disease," said NACI.
Dr. Shelley Deeks, vice-chair of the vaccine panel, said that when NACI issued its vaccine priority list in December it recommended that essential workers — including teachers, grocery store staff and food production and manufacturing workers — be vaccinated in stage two, soon after long-term care home residents and front line workers.
"The extended dose interval enables those workers to get vaccinated sooner than they would have, at least with the first dose, than using the authorized interval," she told reporters today.
"We've actually prioritized those workers."
B.C. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, speaking at the news conference as chair of Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health, said it's up to provinces to consider the recommendations closely.
WATCH | Vaccine committee responds to questions about prioritizing essential workers
"It is a balancing act and it's a challenging one," she said.
"We have all of us been targeting workplaces that have had outbreaks and I know we've been quite successful out here in getting food processing and farm workers and others immunized in the program so far, and we will be continuing to do that and we'll be waiting for other vaccines to become available."
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has come under pressure to prioritize essential workers for vaccination. Today, while announcing new stay-at-home measures in the province, he announced plans to start vaccinating people aged 18 and older living in COVID-19 hot spots, including teachers and essential workers, starting with Toronto and Peel.
Ford said that mobile teams are being organized to offer vaccines in high-risk congregate settings, residential buildings, faith-based locations, and places occupied by large employers in those hot spot neighbourhoods
Ottawa willing to help provinces and territories, Hajdu says
According to CBC's vaccine tracker 16.3 per cent of the population has receive one dose so far.
NACI said that, based on the expected supply of mRNA vaccines alone, extending dose intervals up to four months will allow 90 per cent of adults over 50 years of age and 75 per cent of adults aged 16 to 49 to receive a first dose of vaccine by the middle of June 2021.
During a news conference Tuesday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the federal government is willing to help the provinces and territories protect people who can't work from home during the pandemic.
She pointed to employment insurance and the essential worker support program — which provides a temporary wage top-up — but stressed it's largely a provincial issue.
"We have to remember that vaccination is an important tool, but it's not the only tool," she said. "Workplaces need to be safe and, of course, that is largely provincial jurisdiction."
On March 3, NACI recommended that the maximum interval between the first and second doses of the Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccines should increase to four months in order to boost the number of Canadians being vaccinated.
NACI, an external advisory body that provides independent immunization advice to the Public Health Agency of Canada, said it will continue to monitor the evidence on effectiveness of an extended dose interval and will adjust recommendations as needed.