COVID-19 spring booster shots will begin in April for adults at high risk of serious illness or death from the virus, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Friday.
Henry said she is holding off on advising spring boosters for those age 50 and younger, since 90 per cent have immunity from both vaccination — which wanes over time — and infection.
The virus will be around for the “foreseeable future,” Henry said.
“COVID-19 is still with us and we’re still seeing higher levels than we saw for some time and, as expected, we’re starting to see a bit of an increase in influenza B.”
Across B.C., 205 patients in hospitals are currently positive for COVID.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization last week advised a spring COVID-19 booster shot for those at highest risk for serious illness and death, at least six months after their most recent vaccination.
Those recommended for the spring booster include individuals older than 80, seniors in long-term care homes, Indigenous people older than 70 and those 18 and older who are moderately to severely immuno-compromised.
Older individuals have more waning protection, Henry said, noting there is still moderate risk of contracting COVID.
Those 60 and older — or Indigenous people 50 and older — who have not previously contracted COVID-19 should also consider receiving a spring booster dose, said Henry.
Anyone who believes they need a spring booster should talk to their health-care provider or pharmacist, even if they are not on the recommended list, she said.
Henry said the province’s public health officials are seeing a relatively high level of COVID circulation right now, and are closely watching the data locally and globally in order to make recommendations heading into the fall.
By fall, she said, new vaccines may have been developed in response to changes in the Omicron variant expected over the next few months.
While more variants are anticipated, with global immunity increasing it’s unlikely that a new virus for which we have no protection will emerge, said Henry, who hopes a combination COVID and influenza vaccine will eventually be available.
The bivalent vaccine offered last year — a combination of the original strain and the Omicron strain — is proving to provide longer, better protection, said Henry. She urged those who have not yet had it to get one, since unvaccinated people are at significantly higher risk of needing to be hospitalized.
“It is not too late to get the protection that’s going to help you,” said Henry. “This virus is going to be with us for the foreseeable future.”
The spring booster campaign was announced on the eve of the third anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020.
“It has been a long three years,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix.
B.C. Green deputy leader Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi said in a statement Friday that it’s not enough just to focus on vaccines in dealing with COVID-19.
He said the province must develop clean-air strategies and get prepared for the next “inevitable” airborne virus.
While vaccines mitigate against severe acute disease, which is important, they do not prevent infection and are not foolproof against subsequent potential complications, said Gandhi.
“There is significant emerging evidence that SARS-CoV-2 can have lasting effects on nearly every organ system in the body for a prolonged time following acute infection,” he said.