Increasing booster uptake as Sask. long-term care homes grapple with outbreaks: health official

As long-term care homes grabble with COVID outbreaks, a senior health official says boosters are critical to keep the most vulnerable people safe.

The province reported 18 confirmed outbreaks in long-term care and care homes across the province between April 10 and April 16.

“We see spillover into the most vulnerable parts of society including long-term care,” said Saskatchewan interim senior medical health officer Dr. Cory Neudorf.

“Outbreaks have to be seeded into these facilities through some combination of people visiting, they’re delivering things, they’re working there, if there’s enough virus transmission in the community it finds its way into the facility, unfortunately.”

Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization virologist Alyson Kelvin says there are certain aspects of community living that allow transmission.

“Different pathogens, especially respiratory pathogens, transmit throughout these care homes and we see that during the influenza season, these places are a lot more vulnerable to outbreaks than people living in the regular community,” she said.

Despite the outbreaks, Neudorf says vaccinations and third and fourth shots are drastically reducing the number of infections that require hospitalizations.

“We’re still seeing outbreaks in long-term care, but they tend not to be as large, they tend not to be lasting as long or spread to as many people, and there are far fewer people who are needing hospitalization,” he said.

Neudorf said if long-term care residents require hospitalization, they’re tending to stay for fewer days and “far fewer” need ICU care.

“If we hadn’t had such a high immunization rate in those seniors and the high booster rates now, the level of virus transmission we’re seeing in the community would have resulted in a complete overwhelming of all parts of the system.”

However, Neudorf said the protection against transmission is transient months after receiving the third dose.

Kelvin said the effects of vaccinations in older individuals start to wane more quickly.

“Older individuals have more of a decreased response to vaccination, where specifically their antibody levels and protection from COVID-19 vaccines begin to wane after a couple of months, which is probably the main reason why we’ve now opened up fourth doses to people over 70,” she said.

Kelvin said she strongly suggests increasing vaccinations and wearing masks, as well as testing before entering long-term care facilities.

Neudorf says two doses of vaccine were sufficient for the initial strain of COVID-19, but it’s clear that Omicron requires people to receive three doses.

“If you’ve only had two doses, you really haven’t even finished your primary series of vaccine,” he said. “

“There are lots of vaccines where we have to give three doses before you’re fully immunized so there’s a lot of people out there still who haven’t finished and we need to encourage them to get out and get that third dose.

“Certainly the booster dose, this fourth dose that we’re giving for people who are more at risk is very needed. It is very much needed while we still have so much virus circulating in the community.”

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