The rollout of British Columbia’s fall COVID-19 booster program is expected to begin next week, according to provincial health authorities.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said everyone five and older is encouraged to get a fall booster six months after their last shot. For those who developed COVID-19 after their last shot, the recommended interval is three months after their infection.
“We are not yet at a point where we can let our guard down,” she said.
Last month, Health Canada approved an updated COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna to target the highly contagious Omicron variant. The vaccine is a combination — or bivalent vaccine — containing a mixture of spike protein elements from both the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Omicron variant, BA.1.
Henry said the vaccine offers protection against all Omicron sub-variants, including BA.4 and BA.5, which are currently the dominant ones in circulation.
Invitations to book a booster shot will start going out later this week, with the first wave targeting health-care workers and at-risk groups, including those with compromised immunity or a chronic condition, Indigenous people, those in communal living situations and people aged 60 and over.
Protection for the new school year
Dr. Penny Ballem, the executive lead of BC’s COVID-19 immunization plan, said it is especially important for people to keep their vaccines up to date as the province enters a new school year.
“Children … are going into a setting where they want to participate in many activities and not be home sick,” she said.
WATCH | Dr. Penny Ballem encourages young people to get vaccinated
Ballem noted approximately 58 percent of children aged five to 11 have received one dose of the vaccine so far, and just under 50 percent have received their second.
“We really want to encourage that [get boosted] and take advantage of this campaign,” she said.
Variety of vaccines available
The Moderna bivalent vaccine will be the default booster offered, although other varieties, including Pfizer, Janssen and Novavax, will also be available through special request.
Starting in October, the province will begin offering both a COVID-19 booster shot and a flu shot at the same time.
Health officials are anticipating a spike in COVID and influenza in November-December.
Henry said the flu season is expected to be as bad as was seen recently in Australia and New Zealand’s winter, partly because so little influenza circulated due to the COVID-19 public health measures of the past two years.
She encouraged people to take personal responsibility to protect themselves and others by staying home when ill, wearing a mask in group settings, washing hands and staying up to date on vaccinations.
She said she does not expect to reintroduce the sweeping public health restrictions of the last two years.
“The tools used when we had no immunity and needed drastic measures are no longer effective and no longer needed in most cases,” said Henry. “We can trust people in our community to do those things, so we don’t need the heavy hand of restrictions, in my opinion.”
At its peak, BC’s fall booster program is expected to reach 280,000 people per week, with pharmacies and public health clinics distributing the majority of the vaccine.
Henry advised that anyone already eligible for a COVID-19 booster get it as soon as it is offered and not wait until the flu vaccine is available.
About 110,000 doses of Moderna bivalent vaccine are expected to arrive in BC this week, with larger deliveries arriving in subsequent weeks.
Henry said she expects more people to get a fall booster than the 69 percent of eligible people who chose to get the spring booster shot.
To receive an invitation to get a booster or flu shot, you must be registered with Get Vaccinated BC, available online or through the provincial call center at 1-833-838-2323.