COVID-19: B.C. should expedite vaccine boosters to combat Omicron variant, say experts – Vancouver Sun

“Boosting in December is needed to raise the wall of immunity to the height needed to avert overwhelming the hospitals and avoiding a lockdown in January” — UBC epidemiologist Sarah Otto
Provincial restrictions that come into force Monday to slow the spread of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant are helpful, but the province needs to expedite the rollout of booster shots as a first line of defence, say experts.
“Boosting in December is needed to raise the wall of immunity to the height needed to avert overwhelming the hospitals and avoiding a lockdown in January,” says University of B.C. epidemiologist Sarah Otto.
“The more we boost now, the higher this wall, which means cranking up the eligibility as fast as we can,” said Otto, a zoologist who specializes in mathematical modelling.
She pointed to a report from the Coronavirus Variants Rapid Response Network published last Friday that concluded Canada should be prepared for another large pandemic wave within the next month.
The group, comprised of three dozen experts in virology, immunity, vaccine protection and computer modelling at universities across Canada, including Otto, recommended a rapid rollout of booster shots.
On Friday, the B.C. government announced renewed restrictions as case counts in B.C. and around the world are blowing up again. Those include restrictions on indoor family gatherings, prohibiting New Year’s Eve parties and sports tournaments, and cutting capacity limits to 50 per cent for large venues.
But the province did not significantly change its booster-shot program which, for the general public, is scheduled to begin in January. In B.C., boosters so far have been restricted generally to those 65 years and older and people whose immune systems are compromised.
The third vaccine jabs for the larger population will be delivered six months after the second shot.
Other provinces have taken a much more aggressive approach as Omicron has ratcheted up, with Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec moving eligibility for a booster to three months after a second vaccine shot. Alberta has also moved more quickly to make the booster jabs available, last week making the third jab available to all health-care workers and those over 50 years old.
South of the border in Washington state, residents have been eligible for a booster since November .
Dr. Brian Conway, president and medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, says he hopes that B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry will reconsider over the weekend the province’s position not to move up its plans for booster shots .
Experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the president of the United States, have made the determination that giving this third shot more quickly, on balance, is the most effective way to go, noted Conway.
“Have that discussion with people who are experts and who have come to a different conclusion to make sure that we in British Columbia are reassured,” said Conway, who has suggested moving boosters to a four-month interval.
Simon Fraser University epidemiologist Caroline Colijn was not as forceful on expediting booster shots, although she said that if it could be done, she was supportive of it.
She said health officials won’t know how severe Omicron will be in vaccinated people in B.C. until there are many thousands of cases.
“So, we have to decide without a lot of the knowledge that we need. I don’t think it’s an easy position for decision makers to be in,” said Colijn, a Canada 150 research chair in mathematics for evolution, infection and public health with SFU.
Provincial health officials have said there is not a vaccine supply issue.
In Friday’s briefing, Henry said science has proven that a longer interval between doses results in longer-lasting and more robust immunity.
“We are going to be living with this virus for a long time, so we want to give the best protection, the strongest protection and the longest-lasting protection,” said Henry. “So preserving that (six-month) interval between dose two and a booster dose gives us stronger, better protection for longer and it will get us through not just this variant but for the next variant.”
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