BC will offer COVID-19 booster soon for ages 12+ and new vaccines coming soon

British Columbia is preparing for a major COVID-19 booster vaccine campaign this fall with the expectation that new tailor-made vaccines to combat the Omicron variant will become available.

COVID-19 boosters will be available to people 12 and older in BC beginning in September, said Dr. Penny Ballem, who leads the province’s COVID-19 immunization plan.

Invitations will start going out Monday for the most vulnerable people 65 and older, he said Friday.

The advantage of getting the second booster vaccine this fall is that new vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna better suited to combat the Omicron variants are likely to be available, he said.

New vaccines still require approval from Health Canada, but the review process is underway, Ballem said.

“It’s about the fall,” he told a news conference. “We want you to wait to get your next booster in the fall. Fall is the best time to get your next shot. That’s when the risk is highest.”

Nearly 94 percent of BC residents have had their first shot, 91.2 percent have had a second, but only 59.5 percent have had their first booster, he said.

Ballem said that 1.3 million people in BC have not yet received a third vaccine and should receive it immediately to ensure better protection against COVID-19.

People who feel like they need their second booster now instead of the fall can contact health authorities and arrangements will be made for them to get their shot, he said.

Ballem said officials also hope to get approval by the end of July to vaccinate children ages six months to four years, but that also needs regulatory approval.

#BC will offer COVID-19 booster for ages 12+ starting this fall, new vaccines expected. #BCPoli #Covid19

Acting Provincial Health Officer Dr. Martin Lavoie said the fall booster campaign aims to offer people the most protection against COVID-19.

“The fall, particularly the winter, is when we know that respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, are expected to circulate in much higher numbers,” he said. “That’s when a lot of people get sick, and that’s when the risk of getting infected increases.”

He urged people who haven’t received their first booster dose to do so and encouraged everyone to continue practicing safe habits, such as wearing masks, washing hands, keeping safe distances and staying home if sick.

BC is following the latest recommendation from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which says that people over the age of 65 and others at risk of illness should get a fall booster, while people between the ages of 12 and 64 are encouraged to get vaccinated

Lavoie said the latest wave of the Omicron BA.5 variant is increasing hospitalizations.

He said that vaccine manufacturers have learned a lot about adapting to variants and that the developments are promising.

“What is important to know now is that manufacturers have developed vaccines that will be a better fit for Omicron, which is great news,” Lavoie said.

“As the virus moves further away from the vaccine that we have now, we need to have a vaccine that is closely related to the one that is circulating in order to be more effective,” he said.

Until now, BC has been offering second booster shots for people over 70 years of age and indigenous people over 55 years of age.

The most recent update from the BC Center for Disease Control reports 765 cases of COVID-19 for the week of June 26-July 2, up from 620 the previous week.

It also says that there were 172 hospital admissions for COVID-19 during the week of June 26 to July 2, while there were 209 admissions during the previous week.

The center says there were 24 COVID-19-related deaths last week compared to 33 deaths from June 19-25.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said 2.8 million people in BC have received their first booster, but urged others to get their shot.

“Get your first booster today. Do it today,” Dix said.

BC has a high vaccine acceptance rate, but the numbers can always be improved, he said.

“As a community we have adapted and adapted and adapted and we are going to have to continue to adapt,” Dix said.

— By Dirk Meissner in Victoria.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 8, 2022.

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