Cross Country Checkup

Booster shots, visiting unvaccinated family & travelling with kids: Your COVID-19 questions answered

As part of Checkup’s regular Ask Me Anything series, infectious diseases specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger answered questions from callers about vaccine effectiveness against new strains, visiting parents and travelling with unvaccinated children.

Dr. Lynora Saxinger answers questions from Cross Country Checkup callers

With news that Pfizer is seeking authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, one Checkup caller asked whether they should wait for their second dose. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

With much of the country reopening and travel picking back up, many Canadians have questions about vaccine second doses and public health precautions — especially as new variants surface.

"Delta has already proven itself to be truly a variant of concern," said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta, Sunday on Cross Country Checkup.

"We've seen it cause surges in many places in the world already. We're seeing it replace our prior strains here in Canada as well."

Another variant, known as lambda, has also been discovered in Canada.

"Lambda's kind of an evolving story," Saxinger told guest host Michelle Eliot. "It's not yet clear if it's going to be a big deal or not."

As part of Checkup's regular Ask Me Anything series, Saxinger answered questions from callers about vaccine effectiveness against new strains, visiting parents and travelling with unvaccinated children.

Should I wait for vaccines against new variants?

Kimberly Tomlinson calling from Creston, B.C., asked whether vaccine makers are developing a shot to target newer variants of COVID-19, and if people should get a second shot now — or wait.

Saxinger said that while manufacturers have begun working on variant-specific vaccines — and that some are in clinical trials — it's unlikely they will be available in the short term.

Research suggests that existing vaccines for COVID-19 are effective against the delta strain, and for that reason, Saxinger said there's no reason to wait.

"The second dose really does increase your protection against severe infection from [the] delta variant, and given that that's kind of the new kid on the block that's got everyone worried I would say people should go ahead and get their second dose," she said.

"This would help protect your life should you get exposed and catch delta."

WATCH | Mysteries surround new lambda variant detected in Canada

Mysteries surround new lambda variant detected in Canada

3 months ago
The new coronavirus lambda variant first found in Peru is now appearing in Canada, and the WHO says it carries a 'number of mutations' which may make it more transmissible. 3:25

Pfizer's chief scientific officer said Thursday that the company will ask U.S. regulators to authorize a booster shot for its COVID-19 vaccine in the next month, citing evidence of greater infection risk six months after inoculation and in response to the spread of the delta variant.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time, however.

Can I visit unvaccinated family members who have had COVID-19?

Calling from Joliette, Que., Judy Bundrock asked if it is safe to visit family members that have recovered from COVID-19, but aren't fully vaccinated.

Those who have recovered from COVID-19 hold some level of natural immunity, regardless of vaccine status, and Saxinger explains that it's uncommon for reinfection to occur within six months of recovering from COVID-19. 

Some variants like beta, which was first discovered in South Africa, are better able to bypass natural immunity, however.

For those who have received a full vaccine series, and are at lesser risk of contracting the beta variant, Saxinger said a visit could be "reasonable."

"You're always trading off different risks and a risk of waiting later and waiting longer is also a risk that you might have some other health conditions arriving along the way," she said while acknowledging that not all infectious disease experts may agree.

As of July 5, fully-vaccinated Canadians are no longer required to quarantine or self-isolate after arriving in Canada from an international destination. (David Kawai/The Canadian Press)

Saxinger also said while certain reasons for travel may seem non-essential to some, there are valid reasons people choose to travel during the pandemic.

"For people who've been away from their families and have missed important family events, I would say that to me seems like a reasonable priority if ... you can do things to mitigate risk," she told Checkup.

Should unvaccinated children wear an N95 mask while travelling by plane?

One Checkup viewer watching the program on Facebook Live asked if it's safe to travel with children who are too young to be vaccinated, and whether they should wear N95 masks while aboard an airplane.

Saxinger said that modern aircraft are typically equipped with good ventilation systems.

With that in mind, she argues a high-quality cloth mask — along with standard health precautions like hand washing — is preferable to the heavy-duty N95 mask used by medical professionals.

"They [N95 masks] can be hard to tolerate and also they work best when they've been fit tested, which is not something that's routinely offered outside of a health-care setting," Saxinger said.

"The flight risk itself is fairly low. Some of the pinch points along the way might be a little bit higher risk. But to be honest, we're in a very different risk landscape than we used to be."

Written by Jason Vermes

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